Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mind the Gap - rebranding in the social media age

Last Monday (4 October) one of the US's most loved brands tried to introduce its new logo.

The company went about it in the traditional, time-honoured way.

Marketing staff had consulted internal stakeholders (who thought after twenty years the logo looked a little tired), considered the research and wrote a brief. Working with a creative agency they tested new concepts and finally publicly unveiled their new logo to the public in a soft launch via their website on 4 October.

This is about the time they realised that the world had changed.

The company had been very successful at marketing its brand online, using Facebook (721,000 fans), Twitter (35,000 fans) and other social media channels to engage customers and build their loyalty.

So naturally the company announced its brand online first to its fans - its most loyal and engaged customers.

Within hours of the announcement criticism began pouring in. Not from a few scattered individuals, but from a massive group of people.

Customers began rallying around the old logo, self-organising their own groups in protest to the new one. A website, Crap Logo Yourself was created to mock the brand (give it a try!)

The company did what any socially aware organisation would do. It listened to its most important stakeholders - its customers.

Within three days (on Thursday 7 October) the company's President blogged publicly about what they would do to address customer concerns.

"We chose this design as it's more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward.

Now, given the passionate outpouring from customers that followed, we've decided to engage in the dialogue, take their feedback on board and work together as we move ahead and evolve to the next phase..."
The company looked at ways to engage its customers - seeking their views and designs to help bring their customers with them on a new brand journey.

However it was too late in the process for this. Customers had rallied around the old brand and were not in the mood to consider a new look.

A few hours ago (on Monday 11 October), the company announced it would keep its old brand, stating in a media release that:

Last week, we moved to address the feedback and began exploring how we could tap into all of the passion. Ultimately, we’ve learned just how much energy there is around our brand...

... our customers have always come first. We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.

And on Twitter:

We’ve heard you. We only want what’s best for Gap. No crowd sourcing, but the Blue Box is back. http://bit.ly/9xvtvJ

Yes, the company was the clothes brand, Gap.

An embarrassing backdown? No - it has been lauded as a social media success story for the company.

Executives put their egos in their pockets, listened to customer sentiment and gave customers what they wanted. They did this before the company suffered sales losses, downward profit corrections, shareholder anger and an expensive and time consuming process of rebuilding customer trust.

Of course if the company had embedded social media into its branding process - as it had its marketing - the story may have been different. By engaging customers in a dialogue about what the brand stood for, crowdsourcing branding concepts and taking customers on the journey throughout the creative processes it could have reimagined the brand successfully.

However regardless of this, the company has retained its customer loyalty, created enormous positive publicity about its existing brand and learn the valuable lesson that successful organisations are the custodians, not owners, of their brands. Their brands are owned by their customers.

And it has achieved this in a week, where before social media it would have taken months or even years for a company to recognise, accept and address mistakes (with corresponding greater damage).

How does this relate to the public sector?

We too have brands. We too have customers (also called clients and citizens). We too have processes for introducing new logos, services and products (and policies).

Our customers are as capable as those of Gap at using social media to organise and make their views known.

And we too can engage our customers online in ways which bring them with us - or in way which cut them out of decision loops, leaving them feeling betrayed and angry.

When attempting to design and then sell new policies, in areas including climate change, taxation, education and so on, are we really engaging our end  'customers' - citizens?

When we rebrand a Department, rethink a service or redesign a website, do we put our citizens at the middle of the design and decision making process?

Are we using cheap and fast engagement channels - such as social media - to engage, listen and bring our citizens with us?

Or are we falling back on traditional and time-honoured approaches, as Gap did?

Defending a 'traditional' approach as 'process-driven' and 'proven' may protect a few egos, but can fail to achieve public good, desired outcomes and even damage the reputation and credibility of agencies and governments.

No good public servant wants that.

Gap case study
Gap sources:

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